At this time of the year, we are usually talking turkey with lots of questions about how to make the perfect turkey gravy. Gravy is often the star of a turkey dinner, the condiment that ties the meat, potatoes, and veggies together. While making gravy is nearly the same for all meats, for the purposes of this blog, we’ll zero in on turkey gravy.
In its basic form, gravy is a thickened sauce made from meat drippings with perhaps the addition of stock and seasonings. It starts as a roux or equal parts of fat and flour cooked in a skillet until it is golden brown and bubbly. (Cornstarch and potato starch are other options for thickening gravy when flour cannot be used and will be addressed later.) The best fat is found in the drippings rendered by the meat during roasting found roaming at the bottom of the roasting pan. Drippings are flavor packed and add a depth of flavor to any gravy.
When the turkey reaches temperature, remove it from the oven, tent, and let rest for 20 minutes. During this time, the turkey will continue to rise in temperature and leak additional drippings. Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and drain the drippings through a colander or strainer to remove the coagulated bits of this and that. Discard the bits and save the strained drippings to make the gravy.
Separate the fat from the liquid drippings with a separator or with a spoon. If there is sufficient fat, use the separated fat to make the roux. If not, use butter or any other fat preferred (coconut oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, margarine, or bacon fat). For each cup of gravy desired, use a ratio of two tablespoons of fat, two tablespoons of flour, and a cup of liquid to produce a rich and thick gravy. (This ratio can be doubled or tripled as needed.) In a skillet (or roasting pan), whisk the flour into the fat over medium heat. Let the mixture bubble and brown slightly. Slowly add the defatted drippings or a combination of drippings and broth or other liquid, whisking vigorously to dissolve the roux into the liquid and prevent lumping. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently until slightly thickened. Stir in desired seasonings—salt, pepper, herbs (dried or fresh) such as sage and/or thyme. Go lightly on the salt if salted broth is used or the drippings are already salty. Taste as you go. Allow the gravy to simmer and thicken for about 10 minutes longer adding more liquid to thin if needed.
There are unlimited recipes for making turkey gravy; many family recipes have been passed along for generations and may be made with cream, giblets, cream soups, broth only, variety of seasonings, wine, cognac, and other unique ingredients. There is nothing wrong with going outside of a basic gravy recipe. Whether basic or otherwise, sometimes things go wrong and other than scorching, most gravy can be rescued. Some quick cures:
Bland – add a little more salt or herbs, a drop or two of soy sauce, or sautéed onions or mushrooms
Lumpy – blend in a blender or with an emulsion blender until smooth
Too thick – add more drippings, broth, or even water to thin (I’ve even seen orange juice used.)
Too thin – make a slurry of flour and water and slowly add to gravy bringing it to a boil OR make a small roux (equal butter and flour) and add to the gravy
Too greasy – use a slice of bread to soak up the grease as much as possible; add a little more liquid, whisk briskly and serve quickly
Gravy is perishable. Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F. Therefore, homemade turkey gravy should be discarded if left for more than 2 hours at room temperature. To maximize the shelf life of homemade turkey gravy, refrigerate in airtight containers. Properly stored, homemade turkey gravy will keep for 2 days in the refrigerator. To further extend the shelf life, it can be frozen in airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags. In the freezer, turkey gravy will maintain best quality for about 3 months, but will remain safe beyond that time. When reheating homemade turkey gravy, always bring the gravy to a slow rolling boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, before serving.
When flour cannot be used, cornstarch and potato starch are the best options for gravy. Avoid arrowroot and tapioca starches because they can get “stringy” and look artificial in gravy. Cornstarch gravy is more translucent than flour based sauces. Potato starch gravy is more opaque than cornstarch, but less opaque than flour. Gravy made with starches require less simmering than flour based sauces. Avoid boiling as overcooked starch based gravy will lose some of its thickness. Keeping time in the refrigerator remains the same but know that starch based gravy does not freeze well.
A delicious homemade gravy is easy to make but shouldn’t be hurried even though it might be the last item made to complete the menu. Some like to make their gravy ahead of time. If made ahead, bear in mind refrigerating, freezing, and reheating precautions. An electric gravy boat, thermos, or slow cooker (warm) is a great way to keep gravy at serving temperature and consistency after reheating or while waiting for dinner to be served.